Sunday, August 23, 2015

Homily Twenty First Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Deacon Jerry Franzen 8/23/15   Cathedral
Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18   Ephesians 5:21-32   John 6:60-69

The Catholic Church, as we all know, has many critics
from within the Church and those outside the Church.
And throughout the past twenty centuries,
those critics have come up with many, many criticisms.
One of the most long-lasting criticisms
has to do with the ancient practice of the Roman Rite
having a celibate priesthood.
Some might say that the celibate priesthood and
the consecrated celibate religious life of sisters and brothers
makes it look like the Church is anti-marriage.
The practice of celibacy, some critics say,
ends up creating two classes of Catholics:
the "upper class Catholics,"
who live in perfect chastity and celibacy.
and the "lower class Catholics," who get married.
That's what some critics might say.
But when they say that, they expose their ignorance.


The priesthood, the sacrament of holy orders,
and the consecration of one’s life in a religious order
are without a doubt valued highly by the Church,
but not at the expense of marriage!
Marriage is also a sacrament,
and St. Paul makes it very clear in today's Second Reading
that marriage is not a second-class sacrament.
Rather, it is sacred, beautiful, willed by God
and filled with deep theological meaning.
He likens marriage to the mystery of “Christ and his Church.”

In light of this reading, and considering how much
the Catholic and traditional understanding of marriage
is under attack these days,
we have a perfect opportunity here
to reflect briefly on the characteristics of marriage,
from God's point of view.

The first aspect of marriage is its complementary nature.
God made man and woman.
This was not a fluke, a mistake
 or a random product of mindless evolution.
It was God's plan that these two genders would be complementary,       that they would have different bodily characteristics
that complemented each other,
that served to unite them in love,
that served to promote the miracle of procreation.
But it goes beyond the physical.
Men and women are “mysteriously” attracted to each other,
not because they are the same, but
because they have different tendencies and characteristics
that complete each other in a psychological sense also.
This is a basic fact from our own experience
and from the universal testimony of human history.

But it is also a basic theological fact.
God created each of us to give image
to his own divine nature here on earth.
And the essence of the divine nature is self-forgetful,
ever-giving, ever forgiving and fruitfully loving.
Husbands and wives forming families
by loving each other faithfully and totally
- this mysterious, fruitful complementary love-
is one of the most basic facts about marriage from                                     God's perspective.
This part of God’s message on marriage comes across well.
It fits with the traditional secular view of marriage
where the wife and husband complement each other
by “meeting each others needs” as they arise.
This natural attraction of male for female
and the resulting complementarity resulting in marriage,
is the reason why the Church does not recognize
“same-sex marriage.”
God designed marriage to be the state of this complematarity,
both physical and psychological,
between a man and a woman.

But the gender complementarity of the spouses
isn't the whole picture of marriage from God's perspective.
A further characteristic is evident from today’s words of St. Paul.
He makes it clear that marriage as designed by God
is built on an ordered relationship between the spouses.
This is what St. Paul means when he says so clearly that
a husband is "the head of his wife"
and that wives should be "subordinate to their husbands."
These can be very uncomfortable phrases for us modern Catholics.
We tend to want to dismiss St Paul's affirmations
as applicable to the culture of his day
but not applicable to the culture of our day.
But St Paul isn't merely stating a personal opinion
or a cultural description.
He is putting forth a theological truth.
He is saying that one of the "great mysteries" of marriage,
one of the reasons why Christ, acting in the Church,
has made marriage into a true sacrament,
is that it is to be an image of the relationship
between Christ and the Church.

The husband is not meant to be the head of the wife
in the sense that the wife is the husband's servant or slave
- not at all.
St. Ambrose addressed Christian husbands in the following:
"You are not her master, but her husband;
she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife.... 
Reciprocate her attentiveness to you
and be grateful to her for her love."
(quoted in St. John Paul II's Letter to Families, #25).

By nature the husband and the wife are completely equal in dignity.
Adam and Eve were both created in the image and likeness of God.
They were both equally necessary and dependent on each other.
A husband cannot fulfill his calling as a husband
without the commitment of his wife.
A wife cannot fulfill her calling as a wife
without the commitment of her husband.
The husband and wife together build the marriage and the family,          just as the brain and the heart together keep the body alive,
growing, and healthy.
The heart is subordinate to the brain in the sense that
the brain must send the impulses to the heart to keep it beating.
The heart can’t beat without the impulse.
Under normal conditions,
the heart would never be insubordinate or rebellious
towards the leadership of the head,
and go off beating on its own.
Yet the brain is dependent on the heart also,
 because without the heart pumping blood,
 the brain would not get its supply of blood
 to keep functioning, to keep sending the impulses.
The wife and husband must be each subordinate to the other.
This is why St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Ephesians: "Brothers and sisters, be subordinate to one another."

This is why St Paul insists so strongly that the husband
must love his wife as totally as Christ loves the Church.
The Church has always understood this relationship
as a partnership of love and mutual self-giving.
Christ is the head of the Church
and has given his life to her and for her, the Church;
this is what a husband must do for his wife.
And the Church is the bride of Christ,
totally consecrated to him and his Kingdom;
this is what a wife must do for her husband.
I see St. Paul’s directions of wives being subordinate
and husbands giving their lives as Christ did
as two ways of saying the same thing.
This is not “I’ll be there whenever you need me,
because God has made me to fulfill your needs.”
It is “I give my life to you because God has made me to do for you
as Christ did for the Church.” and
“God made me to be subordinate to you
as the Church is to Christ.”


When my wife and I first meet an engaged couple
for marriage preparation,
we begin with the usual chit-chat to get to know each other.
Then I ask them this question, “Why do you want to get married?”
Often I get this dumbfounded look followed by
“You go first.  No, you go first.” 
Sometimes the look is a “Why do you want to know?” look
and sometimes it’s sadly a “I don’t know how to answer” look.
The eventual answers are most often like the following:
He really completes ME.  She is MY soulmate.
He is the person I want to live MY life with.
Although, sometimes we do get the response, “I love him (or her),”
I often have to ask whether love is in the picture someplace.
The response is usually something like “Sure.”
or “Oh, Yes", like that was a given.” 
Then I ask the couple what love means to them,
and the couple fumbles around for an answer to that question.
It is true that love can be hard to define.
To help them, I say let’s look at what Jesus had to say about love:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
How did Jesus love us?  He gave his life for us.
Then I ask them individually
 if each of them is ready to give their life for and to the other.
It’s a heavy moment.
I usually explain that in their answers to the original question,
“Why do you want to get married?”
their answers focus on themselves,
on what they will get out of the marriage, a lot of “me” things.
The focus of marriage must be on what you bring to the other,
the gift of your life to the other. 
After all, in the marriage rite they will be asked this question:
“Have you come here freely and without reservation
to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”

As we continue with this holy Mass,
in which Christ will again give his life for us, his bride,
let's all thank God for the beautiful gift of creating us,
man and woman, in his image and likeness.
Let's all ask his forgiveness
for the times we haven't lived up to this noble calling,
and let's all renew our commitment
to building Christ's Kingdom in the world,

by striving, with the help of his grace, to live, support, and spread           this "great mystery" of marriage, just as God designed it.

Some material taken from Epriest website for 21st Sunday OT Year B August 23, 2009